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Five Things - Asia

Trump signs another executive order on China. Three major central bankers express concern about the economy. And China points the finger at Australia.

Another Executive Order

Donald Trump signed an order prohibiting U.S. investments in Chinese firms determined to be owned or controlled by the country's military, the latest bid by the White House to pressure Beijing over what the president has described as abusive business practices. China is "increasingly exploiting" U.S. capital for "the development and modernization of its military, intelligence, and other security apparatuses," according to the executive order. Meanwhile, Trump's support for Beijing's critics in Taiwan and Hong Kong presents an early test for President-elect Joe Biden. And this weekend, China joins 14 other Asia-Pacific nations in the aim of clinching the world's largest free-trade agreement, the culmination of Beijing's decade-long quest for greater economic integration in the region.

Markets Fall

Asian stocks look set to follow their U.S. counterparts lower Friday — with futures pointing to modest losses in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia — as a resurgence in coronavirus cases added to concern that tougher restrictions may slow the economic recovery. The S&P 500 fell 1% as New York City prepared for the possibility of closing schools while Chicago urged residents to stay at home. Meantime, the Trump administration is stepping back from stimulus talks and leaving Congress to revive negotiations, according to people familiar. Benchmark 10-year Treasury yields fell back below 0.90% and the dollar ticked higher.

Not So Fast

Three of the world's top central bankers have warned the prospect of a Covid-19 vaccine isn't enough to put an end to economic challenges. "We do see the economy continuing on a solid path of recovery, but the main risk we see to that is clearly the further spread of the disease here in the United States," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said during a virtual panel discussion. "The next few months could be challenging." Powell was joined on the panel by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey and ECB President Christine Lagarde. Both echoed his caution, adding to recent warnings from other central bankers against complacency. The number of new daily virus cases is hitting records in the U.S. and Europe.

Blame Game

China says Australia is to blame for worsening relations between the two nations. "For some time Australia has been violating basic norms governing international relations, and made erroneous words and deeds on issues concerning China's core interests, including those related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, and blatantly interfered in China's internal affairs," Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday. Canberra has said it's seeking to resolve the disputes through diplomatic and other official channels. The comments come after reports of numerous trade bans last week. Here's how trade frictions between the two nations have escalated.

Not Buying It

A high-performing equity fund manager isn't buying into so-called stay-at-home or reopening trades that are sensitive to virus developments. Instead, Auckland-based Castle Point Funds Management's Richard Stubbs said he's targeting companies with strong fundamentals that he expects can withstand such short-term market gyrations. Focusing on near-term earnings, election outcomes and other uncontrollable factors can often prove unproductive in times of volatility, he said. There was a global shift among equity investors from fast-growing companies into parts of the market that have struggled with lockdowns and economic pain earlier this week after the Pfizer news. That's since tempered on the realization that a return to normalcy is still a ways off.

What We've Been Reading

This is what's caught our eye over the past 24 hours:

And finally, here's what Tracy's interested in today

How unlucky were momentum traders this week? Let's just say, improbably, impossibly, stretching-the-limits-of-physics unlucky. JPMorgan writes that Monday's crash in momentum, sparked by news about a possible Covid-19 vaccine, was a 15-sigma event. That's something that might be expected to happen every 1.090e+048 years, which is a figure with far too many zeros in it and by some estimates larger than the number of particles in the universe. By JPMorgan's calculations, it's the single biggest move for momentum on record and the only one in the top 10 that's been sparked by "good news" (the others come from the 2008-9 financial crisis, or from the market sell-off earlier this year).

What to make of this (ahem) momentous number for momentum? Absolutely nothing. Market moves that aren't supposed to happen keep happening. In my lifetime, so many six-sigma and 25-sigma events have occurred that they've become de rigueur rather than statistically significant. Goldman Sachs remarked during the financial crisis that it was seeing "25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row." In my own career as a financial journalist, I believe I've witnessed enough sigma events of various magnitudes to last a billion trillion quadrillion lifetimes (technical term). If 2020 has confirmed one thing it's that life, as well as the market, isn't normally distributed.

You can follow Tracy Alloway on Twitter at @tracyalloway.


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